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Thursday, April 18, 2013 - Page updated at 06:00 p.m.

State jobless rate dips as firms cut hiring

Seattle Times business reporter

The two main surveys used to measure the labor market gave opposite signals about Washington state’s economy in March — 5,500 jobs were lost, but the unemployment rate fell to 7.3 percent.

The monthly household survey indicated that the number of people seeking work dropped by 5,500 in March, while the number of employed increased by 11,800, pushing the unemployment rate down to its lowest level since December 2008, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Meanwhile, the survey of employers showed the number of jobs in Washington fell by 5,500, on a seasonally adjusted basis. The private sector lost 900 jobs, while the public sector lost 4,600.

“A tale of two surveys,” quipped Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a labor economist for Employment Security.

But what’s clear, she said, is the state jobless rate has been steadily dropping: A year ago, the state unemployment rate was 8.4 percent.

The rate for the Greater Seattle area, which includes King and Snohomish counties, was 5.5 percent last month, down from 7.3 percent the prior March. Nationally, the March unemployment rate was 7.6 percent.

Employment statewide hit bottom in February 2010. Since then, Washington’s economy has regained 71 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, Vance-Sherman said, and the Seattle metro area, 82 percent.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of the recovery concentrated in the Seattle metro area,” she said.

Last month’s net loss in jobs coincided with the $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration that began kicking in March 1.

Those cuts could lead to the loss of 48,755 jobs within the state in each of the next two years, according to the state Office of Financial Management. That forecast includes job losses from both direct reductions in federal spending and indirect decreases in spending by consumers affected by the cuts.

But when those cuts and the predicted job losses could hit remains uncertain.

Government shed 4,600 jobs in March, with state agencies losing 2,800 and the U.S. Postal Service contributing additional layoffs.

Professional and business services lost 2,500 jobs, with employment services cutting 1,600 jobs.

Financial activities, information and leisure and hospitality all lost ground in March as well.

Among major sectors, education and health services gained the most jobs, adding 1,800 jobs over the previous month. Manufacturing added 900; retail, 500; construction, 400; and wholesale trade, 200.

Transportation, warehousing and utilities were flat, as was mining.

Manufacturing, which includes aerospace, added 10,500 jobs over the year. While job growth in manufacturing and especially aerospace has led the state out of the Great Recession, employment in the sector has “probably peaked,” according to a recent report by the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

Retail employment rose by 10,000 jobs over the past 12 months as well, with “other retail trade” — a category that includes online retail trade — contributing 5,600 new jobs.

Other job gainers were education and health services (up 7,800), professional and business services (6,400), leisure and hospitality (5,600), wholesale trade (4,000), construction (3,800), transportation (2,600) and government (900).

Still, a lot of people are jobless and seeking work: About 254,000 in March, just over half of whom received unemployment benefits. The state says 3,161 jobless workers exhausted these benefits last month.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or On Twitter @sbhatt

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